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NEW YORK (AP) — When you buy a book or a video cassette, you can lend it to a friend, sell it on eBay, even toss it in the trash. Or you can keep it to read or watch again and again.

It’s all legal under the “first-sale doctrine” of U.S. copyright law, the provision that allows libraries to exist.

But your rights shrink when you’re dealing with an electronic book or a movie downloaded from the Internet.

“The first-sale doctrine is not at this point thought to be applicable to nonphysical copies,” said Jim Kendrick, a copyright lawyer at the firm of Brown Raysman.

Many of the complaints about copyright laws in the digital age revolve around fair use, the provision that permits copying and excerpting for commentary and research. But the digital era is also affecting the ability to lend or transfer copyrighted works.

Computer software is already exempted from the first-sale provision. Software publishers generally restrict use to one or two computers, even if you personally own more. Also exempted are sound recordings: They’re OK to sell, but not to rent like videotapes.

For other works, don’t expect your e-copy to carry the same luxuries as an analog version. You could be restricted on how you use digital materials, and you may have to pay for each use — the way one ticket won’t get you multiple showings at movie theaters.

Movie downloads from SightSound Technologies Inc. are restricted to a specific computer. If you downloaded it at work and want to watch it at home, you’ll need to buy it again. You can’t lend or give away your copy to a friend as you can with videotapes.

Similar restrictions apply with e-books. That’s necessary because when you’re lending digital material, you’re actually making a copy.

“When I’m lending in the brick-and-mortar world, I no longer have it to read,” said Robert Bolick, director of new business development at McGraw-Hill Professional. “In the digital world, I’m not really lending. I still have it. That raises a conundrum.”

New technology could give readers more freedom. With books, for instance, software may let computers know when an item has been “lent.” The copy may still be there, but it won’t be accessible until your friend “returns” it.

SightSound recently began permitting downloads onto handheld computers. Although viewing is now restricted to a small screen, SightSound chief executive Scott Sander believes that “video out” ports in the future will let you attach the device to a television screen.

Bob Kruger, vice president of enforcement for the Business Software Alliance, said content providers have historically balanced copy protection needs with ease of use.

Despite piracy problems, he said, software publishers have avoided stronger but cumbersome controls.

Microsoft Corp. is requiring special activation keys to install Windows XP and Office XP products, so that the company could catch people installing the same copy on more than two computers.

But Brad Smith, deputy general counsel, said computer users would be able to call Microsoft to explain any unusual circumstances — such as a reformatted hard disk that forces a third activation.

Shira Perlmutter, associate general counsel for intellectual property policy at AOL Time Warner Inc., said consumers will ultimately decide what they’ll let content providers do.

The public may accept restrictions, she said, if it means lower costs — for example, paying a few cents per article from an online encyclopedia instead of thousands of dollars for a full set of printed volumes.

Copyright © 2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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